Preston Green, professor of educational leadership, stands near a school on Jan. 21, 2016. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

UConn Prof Crunches Numbers, Pitches Plan to Fix Racial Disparities in Education

Greenwich Public Schools spent $22,370 on each student in the district in the 2019-20 school year, but Danbury spent only $13,521. That same year, Madison spent $21,098 on each of its students, but if you went west to New Haven, that number dropped to $16,751. 

This discrepancy is a statewide phenomenon. According to the non-partisan School and State Finance Project, in 2018-19, Connecticut schools in which 75 percent or more of the students are students of color spent an average of $2,300 less per pupil when compared with districts in which more than 75 percent of the student population is white. 

In a recent article that he co-authored in The Conversation, Preston Green III, a professor at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, outlined a four-part formula designed to address racial inequities in public schools. 

The formula includes tax rebates to Black homeowners, adding a factor into school finance formulas that accounts for the negative effects of racial isolation, removing policies that have racist roots and increasing state aid to school districts in majority-Black districts so that it makes up for gaps in local revenues.

Green presents his proposal as a form of reparations — payments that would give direct compensation to African Americans for wrongs suffered as a result of slavery and the subsequent policies like Jim Crow laws, segregation and racist housing policies. 

Interest in reparations has grown across the country over the last year, and towns and municipalities have experimented with different approaches. According to a recent article in the New York Times, 11 mayors in cities and towns across the U.S. have committed to a reparations pilot program for Black individuals living in their cities. In April, a committee in the U.S. House of Representatives sent a bill to the floor that would form a federal reparations committee. 

Forms of reparations being discussed and piloted in cities and towns include cash payments to descendants of slaves, housing grants to Black residents, and the creation of housing and economic development programs. While he acknowledges the importance of these other components, Greene chose to focus specifically on using reparations to benefit the education system. 

“There have been reparations plans discussed generally, and they’ve all talked about the need to address education,” said Green. “What we wanted to do in this article was to say how education could fit in a general plan.” 

“One of the most segregated Northeastern states” 

Green, an expert in law and education, has taught at the University of Connecticut since 2013. In a recent paper that Green co-authored, in which he outlines his four-part plan in greater detail, Green describes Connecticut as “one of the most segregated northeastern states” when it comes to school funding. 

According to a report from the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute, the Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk area has the largest racial gap in housing values of any metropolitan area in the country. From 2012 to 2016, the median value of homes in majority Black neighborhoods was approximately $131,000, while the median value of homes in neighborhoods with less than 1 percent Black population was approximately $783,900. 

Additionally, Green said that Black residents of Connecticut pay an average of 0.6 percent more in property taxes than white residents, or an additional $1,575 on a $250,000 home. 

Tax rebates, Green said, would neutralize that so-called “Black tax.” These rebates would not benefit all Black residents, only homeowners, a category that includes only 39.5 percent of Connecticut’s Black population, according to census data from the 2013-2018 U.S. American Community Survey. Green said this limitation is necessary because of the potential for legal challenge. 

“This is a remedy designed to address a specific harm. And because this is a race-based remedy, it would be subject to intense legal scrutiny, constitutional scrutiny. So you do have to limit it to the class of folks who are impacted,” he said. 

The second piece of his plan addresses what caused the “Black tax” in the first place — the discrepancy between the values of homes in predominantly white areas versus predominantly Black areas. The lower property values mean less of an ability for towns to generate revenue, which means less money that can go toward funding the local schools. According to Green’s article, white children in Connecticut receive on average $4,295 more in local revenue than Black children. 

If state aid does not make up for these revenue gaps, districts in majority-Black areas suffer disproportionately. Green found that in order to compensate for these gaps, majority-Black school districts in Connecticut needed to receive an additional $1,574 per pupil in state aid. 

But Green told CT Examiner that the goal of these reparations was not just to settle accounts for wrongs done in the past. 

“You do want to correct the problems of the past, but … that’s not enough. You also have to correct the problems going forward,” he said. “Part of the apology is saying that, not only do we address the problem, but we will fix it to the best of our abilities so that it won’t happen again.” 

“Connecticut has its issues”

Green was raised in Alexandra, Virginia, in the 1970s, and remembers growing up surrounded by “many Confederate flags and statues.” This gives him a particular perspective on education in Connecticut. 

“Connecticut has its issues. Connecticut definitely does have its issues, and I talk about them, but there are places that have bigger problems,” said Green.

Green said that he hasn’t seen in Connecticut policies like some southern and midwestern states have which explicitly favor more advantaged districts. Alabama, for instance, has a program that provides aid based on the degree levels of the teachers, and Kansas raised revenue caps for its districts that had the highest housing prices. 

“You don’t have that sort of blatant racist history that you do have in other places. But you do have that sort of funding system that’s grafted upon this racial separation,” he said. 

Green is critical of Connecticut’s primary state aid formula to school districts, called Education Cost Sharing. The formula is in the middle of a ten-year flux that will gradually increase the amount of money that districts with high levels of poverty receive and decrease the amount that weather districts receive. However, Green said that the formula still needs improvement.  

“To my understanding, they’ve never really based [the formula] upon the need to achieve educational outcomes for these school districts. So I think that what needs to happen is focused funding on those needs,” said Green. 

The current formula includes weights that give more money to districts in areas of concentrated poverty, large numbers of students who are learning English and large numbers of low-income students. Regionalized school districts also receive a “bonus.” 

Green said there is another factor that should be added in, one that accounts for what he refers to as “racial isolation.” He argues that districts with high numbers of African American students should receive additional funding, since discriminatory housing policies that relegated African Americans to specific areas placed these communities at an economic disadvantage. Green said that racial isolation has been associated with higher dropout rates and fewer students going to college.   

The additional funding could be costly. When Green applied his formula to urban school districts in Missouri, he found that one particular district would need to receive 64 percent more than the state’s average amount. Green said it’s possible that the increases might not be feasible, but the goal, he said, was to get the conversation started.

“Right now … we’re not even attempting to consider the impact of race … for funding strategies,” he said. “I think that what needs to happen … is to account for the impact of race in terms of getting the resources, the teachers — especially the teachers, the administrators, the student-teacher ratios and so on. Doing the things you would need to do to give these school districts a chance for better outcomes.” 

In addition to financial reparations, Green said he supported expanding the curriculum to teach students about the ongoing effect that racism has had on the U.S. throughout history. He said he believes these discussions are also part of reparations. 

“[It’s] something that I’m very, very happy to see, especially as a southerner growing up in the seventies who had to listen to history and social studies as discussed in ways that may not have been completely correct,” he said. 

“They may not do this on their own” 

Just as important as the policies themselves is the process for rolling them out. Green said that the reparations he suggests need to happen through a partnership between states and the federal government.

Green said that the federal intervention is critical, especially since the federal government has in the past contributed to the existing disparities through its own policies. 

He said that the federal government can intervene under Title Six, which allows it to penalize states that have policies that further racial discrimination. 

“States need encouragement to do the right thing. They may not do this on their own,” he said. 

According to Green, the federal government can evaluate local school districts to see whether there are disparities occurring in schools that serve primarily students of color. The federal government can then work with state agencies to correct the issues. 

“They haven’t done it, and there are probably political reasons for that, but they certainly have the power to do it,” he said. 

Green said that policies surrounding reparations needed to be made through the legislature, and not through the judicial branch. He said that the difficulty of proving intent of racial discrimination, plus the fact that many courts will not deal with addressing group harms, curtail the efficacy of the courts. 

“There are many, many obstacles that prevent the courts from being the tool for achieving that,” he said. “It’s sort of like, It’s something that’s happened and it’s something that’s happened in the past and supposedly it’s ended.”

“Everyone’s cards will be on the table” 

In thinking about ways to improve educational outcomes outside improvements to traditional public schools, Green was more cautious. He has written extensively, for example, about the problems with charter schools, including the lack of oversight and use of business practices that allow charter school operators to profit off the institutions. 

Green said charter schools can have a positive effect on education for Black and Latino students, but that they need to be under strict regulation. He said that measures need to exist to prevent charter schools from negatively impacting how public schools are funded and the suspension and expulsion rates of Black students. He also said charter schools should not be allowed to impact the way that local real estate is used. 

“If [charter schools] are allowed to have unfettered growth, they could have a negative impact on the school systems, because [the school systems] have no say in where these schools can be located. They’ve got no say in the sort of financial impact that these schools could have,” he said. “And so what needs to happen is the creation of legislation that ensures that when you have this growth, that it doesn’t have this negative impact on the community.” 

Connecticut has also piloted Open Choice programs, which allow students in the high-poverty urban districts of Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven to attend schools in the surrounding suburbs. Next year, the program will expand to include Danbury and Norwalk. 

Green said that he understands the impetus for Open Choice, and the frustration that people have with public schools that have been chronically over-funded for a century and a half. However, he said he worries that these programs could negatively impact the public school system as a whole.  

“I get it. I totally get it. But what I would like to see is focusing on … getting the school system funded in a way that can serve the needs of communities better, first.” 

Green acknowledged that his reparations proposals could have some unintended consequences, such as leading some people to move their children out of the public school system entirely and into private schools. 

“This happened, you know, right after Brown vs Board of education,” he said. “You did have the segregation academies … the use of school choice, even public school choice to obtain segregated outcomes.” 

However, Green said he believes this shift would happen anyway, and that fear of a reprisal wasn’t a good reason not to address the inequities in education.

“I think that maybe this [proposal] will provide an opportunity for a conversation about this,” he said. “Everyone’s cards will be on the table, and then state legislatures and so on can decide what they want to do with this.”

Latest from Emilia Otte